Africa has generally lagged behind most other parts of the world in technology development. While this has meant lower productivity, high underemployment and high import dependency, this ‘technology backwardation’ has simultaneously created a tremendous opportunity to catch-up with and even excel technology developments in more advanced countries through a process of ‘Technology Leapfrogging’.
This is a phenomenon where technologically less advanced countries skip generations of legacy technologies to enter the market with more advanced solutions. For example, most of African countries skipped decades of less effective and less efficient fixed landline telephony technology by rapidly adapting mobile telephony for improved communication and wealth creation options when combined with mobile money solutions like m-pesa that helped leapfrog credit card-based money systems..
The Fourth Industrial Revolution report from the 2016 World Economic Forum at Davos highlighted how humanity is generally moving away from the heavy and ‘dirty’ manufacturing era to higher precision era characterized by greater knowledge/design intensity. Indeed the upsurge in patent warfare and global competition for talent by moneyed multinational enterprises underscores this new industrial epoch.
In order to maximize human talent and win this hyper-competitive knowledge era with fast product development and obsolescence, innovators need advanced product development tools to shorten time-to-market, quickly prove or fail their products, generate traction and raise sufficient capital to create network effects and dominate new markets. Without the capability to quickly prototype and market-test products, the race is lost before it begins.
These facilities provide open access to high precision digital fabrication tools that were too expensive for most people to access 10 years ago. They lower the entry barrier to innovation, enable local economies to manufacture what they need and even compete globally with new products and technologies.
For Africa, this means that we no longer need to look back to simpler legacy technologies but can look ahead at upcoming technology evolutions and jump in at the front of emerging waves. We have the necessary intellectual capacity and now the advanced tools to do so.